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‘About Love’: An Unpretentious, Intimate Portrait of an Ordinary Family

There are some films you purely consume as a spectator, while others pull you in, and before you know it, you’re totally immersed in each and every frame of the film.

That is the kind of experience Archana Phadke offers you in About Love

As a member of the audience, you are never on the sidelines but always in the thick of things while watching this 91-minute film.

With her deeply personal documentary, Archana gives you a front-row seat to her family’s everyday affairs — be it their daily squabbles, quieter moments, a family member’s me time, a wedding ceremony or someone’s death.

It’s not just Archana examining her family under a microscope; as a viewer, you, too, are peering through that microscope, trying to make sense of her world.

Throughout the film, Archana records conversations with and between several members of the family – her father, mother, grandfather, sister and even her long-serving domestic help. In fact, the five-story Phadke abode in South Bombay is as important a character as any of the people in the film. This record of a small ecosystem, its people and its dynamics throughout the film creates a narrative we can all relate to.

Through her work, Archana sheds light on the relegated role of women in Indian households — who often end up playing second-fiddle to their self-absorbed and emotionally distant spouses.

Woman with a mind of her own

Maneesha is an intellectual and a storyteller. Her healthy relationship with herself gives birth to her art and vice-versa. In a beautiful scene, the Phadke matriarch is caught working on her story while having her ‘me time’. She weaves a narrative of two disparate eras and two women living in those eras, both a contemporary woman and a reflection of one from 135 years ago. 

Through her portrayal of these women, she delves into her own internal landscape, exploring the sensation of yearning for connection and fulfilment beyond societal expectations of marriage and family. Her creative expression emerges from her introspective musings, capturing the essence of her dual existence. This scene effortlessly melds Maneesha’s intellect with her storytelling prowess. 

Fimmaker's mother resting her head on a table

This and a slew of similar scenes like the one where Archana talks to her younger sister about living outside their family home in southern Mumbai or the one in which the director herself is thrust in front of the camera, in a revealing moment showcasing her own apprehensions towards marriage, give us an insight into her world and her perspectives on individualism, love and longing.

A record of the Phadke family’s ‘unspectacular time’

About Love is Archana’s valiant attempt to provide viewers with a deep dive into her family — their interpersonal dynamics, idiosyncrasies and each individual’s ideas (and dreams) of what love is.

The idea of documenting her family members germinated when Archana’s mother had a nervous breakdown, and she filmed it. Her conscious decision to look at her mother as an individual and not just as her mother,  is very relatable for every young adult. At some point, they start perceiving a mother as a woman with her own individual personality, thoughts and voice. I’ve experienced similar instances in my relationship with my mother, which often pushed me to get to know her as an independent individual.

Archana Phadke captures a shot of her parents hanging out in the living room.

A few years ago, my mother’s friends visited our home. They had not seen each other in years. It was then that my mother recounted her experience, the grief of losing a father at a very young age. Through reminiscing, she found clarity, something she had come to terms with after a very long time.

Dhruv Pandya
Archana Phadke captures a picture frame showcasing her brother and sister-in-law's picture.

It’s a mammoth task to film your own family and capture all those intimate and vulnerable moments without flinching. But Archana, like the true artist that she is, doesn’t let her personal feelings get in the way of genuine expression. She exhibits great sensitivity by switching between the roles of a caring family member and an objective filmmaker effortlessly.

I resisted writing about this film for a long time. It has been such a rewarding experience that I wanted to hold it close to myself for as long as I could, but later realised that sharing this experience and getting the word out about this film is more important.

My take in a nutshell

Archana Phadke captures her mother's most personal moments away from the family where she takes time out for herself to think, write, and feel.
  1. Both heartbreaking and humorous, the documentary portrays the ups and downs of love through the eyes of people from different generations within a peculiar family that’s bound by something more mysterious than love.
  2. While the story is hyperlocal, set in the city of Bombay, its universal themes will resonate with audiences far and wide. It’s remarkable how it sparks discussions on the fundamental aspects of life, such as family, love, mortality, companionship, matrimony, and societal norms, on a deeply human level.
  3. I loved how the filmmaker portrayed the everyday moments, using a basic handycam to record candid moments of her family members and their interactions, adding to the film’s authenticity. 
  4. I find personal documentaries captivating because they resonate with viewers on multiple levels. Occasionally, they tend to feel voyeuristic and somewhat intimate, which again can add to their artistic appeal, in my view.
  5.  About Love has been the most vulnerable and engrossing piece of art I’ve come across in recent times. I feel you should give it a watch if you haven’t yet. Trust me, you won’t regret it.